McComb-Pike County Airport took its first step toward getting a grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation to build an enclosed hangar, with the McComb city board agreeing to cosign a loan for construction.
The city board voted unanimously Tuesday to cosign the loan, which puts the airport board in a position to start the grant writing process once they get approval from Pike County supervisors. The airport board tasked Neel-Schaffer with grant proposal writing.
“Neel-Schaffer is waiting to hear from us whether we are willing to agree to it, they will proceed to the grant writing part,” Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said. “The second part is ... that is $400,000 they are asking us the supervisors and us to be responsible for.
“We have to cosign simply because that is our airport. If they can’t meet the note, then we have to meet the note."
When asked if he had a recommendation, Lockley said the board needed to weigh the need for an expansion to the airport with the risk of assuming the debt it might incur if the airport defaults.
“I want to support the airport board, but debts the way they are now and having to possibly assume that debt, I’m a little wary of that right now, but I can agree that it would be a benefit to the city as well as the county to have an enclosed unit there,” he said.
Knowing the city’s financial crunch, the chance of taking over the burden of the loan did not sit well with selectmen Devante Johnson and Ronnie Brock.“
“They only have eight renters right now, and I think they had some concerns themselves about whether or not to apply for the grant based on they didn’t have 10 tenants,” Brock, who said he watched the airport board’s last meeting.
Brock asked Lockley if he knew the airport's financial situation, and Lockley said he did not, leading brock and the other members of the board to ask to get a member of the airport board on the phone.
Airport board member Bob Hensarling told the city board that he believes there is a good chance as of Tuesday that the airport would receive the grant, which would pay half the cost associated with the construction.
Hensarling told the city board that the airport board would likely have no trouble paying off the loan without the help of the city or the county, but the city will be listed as a cosigner if the airport board defaults on the loan.
“The airport manager was rechecking today with the people who had committed, and I think he still has five people,” Hensarling said, adding that if the airport has shortfalls on their rent, it has enough saved to pay at least a few months without that revenue.
The airport board wanted an answer by Friday so that could apply, but Brock said the due date for the grant application was weeks away, so they should have more time to think. Johnson said he wanted to wait until May 26, the day before the application's due date, to make the decision, but Hensarling said that would be “cutting it a little close.”
Hensarling also said it would be at least two years before the airport board would have to pay the loan back, adding that five pilots have already confirmed they would rent a space from the airport if they had an enclosed hanger.
“If we don’t apply for them, we won’t have it for years to come,” Hensarling said of applying for the grant and loans. “Nobody wants open units. ... Our airport manager thinks that if we build them, they will come.”
Brock and Johnson ultimately agreed to cosign once they learned the board could stop the process at any moment they need as to not incur the debt themselves. Brock also asked Hensarling for a current financial statement from the airport board in exchange for his vote.
Selectman Michael Cameron, who had previously served on the airport board, had no qualms about approving the request, adding that the airport is a valuable asset to the city and county.
“”That airport is way more important to this community than I think people give it credit for,” he said.